I really enjoyed working with Ed Powers on his KAMGenius course, Brain Friendly Key Account Management (that's me holding a model of a brain in the image above). I learned a lot from him about the importance of knowing how your customer’s brain makes decisions and how their feelings translate to purchasing behaviors. I found it interesting how customers think about value and expectations, and what makes something memorable.
Check it out, I think it’ll be a fantastic way to boost your career and enable you to positively influence customer outcomes in your favor.
Your customer must have a need for a sale to take place. Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs depicts individual human needs with a pyramid. Psychological needs are on the bottom, followed by security, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization at the top. The needs at the bottom take priority with the one on top being fulfilled after all others are met.
These are important to keep in mind when working with key accounts, but they are not the only needs you should be identifying. Companies have needs too. At the highest level these are financial needs such as revenue and profit.
Of course, companies don’t make decisions (people do!), but you need to remember to identify both company and individual needs so you can address them. This is a winning combination that puts you in a better position in the eyes of your key contacts within your accounts because you’re fulfilling personal needs that improve their lives in some way.
Account managers are tasked with delivering value to their accounts to retain and grow them. So, understanding how customer brains calculate value is essential to your success, so you can better position, communicate, and ensure that value is being delivered and optimized. This, in turn, leads to more revenue in the long run.
It turns out that value is much more than return on investment (ROI). Value is subjective. It depends on how the observer perceives it and what it means to them personally. To gauge value, individuals consider things like:
- Context: What decisions are being made, who’s involved, and what are the consequences?
- Payoffs: What benefits are expected, what are the options and how are they compare?
- Costs: How much does it cost in terms of money and effort?
- Delays: How long will it take to receive the product, service, or results?
- Risk and uncertainty: Which option is most likely to deliver the desired result? If the options are perceived to be equal, personal preference influences this aspect. This is where customer experience comes in. A positive past track record with the customer can influence the way they measure risk and value.
Understanding how people evaluate their options helps you better serve your customer and meet their evolving needs.
Managing customer expectations is important since people make decisions by comparing outcomes to expectations and use what they learn to inform future decisions. People interpret the world by filtering information through these beliefs. And beliefs can persist even when the facts indicate something different. So, beliefs about you, your product, and your company eventually become long-term value associations in your customer’s minds, influencing their future decisions.
Expectations are fluid and easy to influence in the beginning. So, set realistic expectations from the start for positive outcomes. One way to do this is to share results customers like them have experienced. This opens a conversation on how to maximize their results. Working together you can overcome any obstacles that come up along the way.
Customers must change how they do things so they can achieve maximum benefits from your solution. But change can be difficult because people resist it. And companies often deploy new technology and services without considering the psychological impact on end users. This can lead to confusion, disengagement, project delays, resistance, poor participation, unmet goals, and customer churn. Therefore, account managers need to help customers overcome this natural resistance by employing change management practices.
Prosci, a training firm specializing in change management, has developed a five-step process called ADKAR:
- Awareness of the need for change. What’s changing and why?
- Desire to participate in and support the change. Personal motivation to change.
- Knowledge of how to change through training.
- Ability to put their new knowledge into day-to-day practice
- Reinforcement of the new knowledge or skill to make it a sustainable habit
To ensure your customers get maximum value and continue to buy from you, it is essential that you play a role in facilitating change.
Key account managers strive to reach trusted advisor status with their customers. When it comes to business relationships, trust is the moderating factor when it’s renewal time. The higher the level of trust, the greater the level of customer commitment, and buying again becomes automatic. But when trust is lower, customers consider other options, debating the risks or benefits of switching to another vendor.
In a business environment, trust is based on three things:
- Ability: competence, predictability, and consistency
- Benevolence: empathy, goodwill, and a commitment to shared goals
- Integrity: fairness, honesty, and open communication
When customers observe these behaviors, trust is built.
Like value, it’s important to demonstrate trustworthiness from the very beginning and continually reinforce it. Start off on the right foot and maintain a reasonable amount of contact. Schedule regular check-ins and deliver value at each engagement. Then be sure to step up to the plate in difficult situations. Taking these steps will help you build trust with your customers.
Customers make decisions based on what they expect, what they experience, and what they remember. Contrary to popular belief, the brain only stores a small fraction of what we experience daily. The brain remembers events that are unique, relevant, salient, recent, things that contain a lot of sensory information, or emotionally intense experiences. When related to the customer experience, the following five types of moments matter most:
- Truth: times where you show your true character, particularly during tough times like escalations, outages, or major contract disputes.
- Proof: when you show how well you keep your promises.
- Wow: when something pleasant and unexpected happens like receiving a handwritten thank-you note or finding some hidden value in the product.
- Power: when a customer realizes they’re able to do something they couldn’t do before having your product or service.
- Connection: when the customer meets new people who share common experiences or backgrounds, getting the relationship off on a positive note.
Accept that not every customer interaction will be notable or even remembered, but when the big events happen, it’s essential that you show up and rise to the occasion.
In business-to-business environments, groups make decisions, complicating things. People in different jobs gather in decision-making units to make buying or renewal decisions. Each person plays a specific role such as an economic, technical, or user buyer. The role can dramatically alter individual expectations, preferences, and experiences. Through interactions, each person modifies their thinking after learning perceptions others have. They consider the decision’s impact on their colleagues, the influence on social rank, and how much their own views confirm to the groups.
Company culture also has an impact since in some cases one person makes all the decisions and in other cases, the culture may be more democratic with the decision coming down to a vote. This is where even a small group of disgruntled users can cause you to lose your account.
So, it’s best to learn who’s involved in making decisions and how those decisions are made. Then you can adjust your approach accordingly. Keeping close track of account changes and decision-making processes is as important as ensuring your current contacts are happy and successful.
Thinking about how your customers think, and more importantly how they feel, will ultimately help you be a better account manager and create better outcomes.
Create better outcomes as a KAM by learning more about how your customer thinks. Register for KAMGenius Plus, the only online video course taught by KAM experts in easy-to-consume bite-sized videos full of actionable tips plus 5 live sessions and certification.